Adapted in part from the archives, with new photos, links, and a favorite tapas recipe.
Where will you be on July 24, 2009?
I'll be in Chicago with 1,000 bloggers at the BlogHer annual conference.
More than 100,000 people, perhaps including a blogger or two, will be in Gilroy, California, at the world's most famous garlic festival.
As interesting as it is, BlogHer's agenda can't compete with the Great Garlic Cook-off, the Miss Gilroy Garlic Festival parade, and hundreds of food vendors offering their specialties in honor of the "stinking rose".
Which, by the way, is not a rose at all; it's a lily.
Americans didn't really get garlic until fairly recently in our culinary history (the 1940s). Before then, garlic was associated in a derogatory way with the ethnic foods found in working-class immigrant neighborhoods; in diner slang, garlic was Bronx vanilla or Italian perfume. As our world view broadened, so did our palates.
More than 5000 years ago, long before America's culinary awakening, the people of ancient Egypt cultivated and venerated garlic, imbuing it with sacred qualities (garlic was found in King Tut's tomb) and consuming it to enhance strength and endurance. Migrating tribes and explorers carried garlic throughout Asia.
One of the world's heathiest foods, garlic has been proven to lower blood pressure and cholesterol. High in vitamins C and B6, selenium and manganese, garlic also is an anti-inflammatory, may help protect against several forms of cancer, and may be beneficial in weight control.
Above all, though, garlic tastes good. Really good.
Garlic is the master ingredient in master sauces like aioli, skordalia, rouille, and pesto. Without garlic, chicken with 40 cloves of garlic would be...well, just chicken. And garlic bread would be, you know, just bread.
The rule of thumb for cooking with garlic is that the finer the chop, the stronger the flavor. Whole cloves impart very mild flavor; sliced cloves have a bit stronger flavor; minced cloves or those put through a garlic press yield the most intense flavor.
You don't need anything but a broad, sharp knife to handle your garlic, though there are dozens of gizmos on the market for peeling and pressing, and even for removing the garlic smell from your hands (but why bother? The aroma of garlic is one of the most seductive in the kitchen).
To separate cloves, lay the head of garlic on its side. Place a large, broad-bladed knife on top of the bulb, and smash with your fist or the heel of your hand. Be firm and decisive, and the bulb will separate into cloves. Repeat the smashing action with individual cloves to remove the peel.
If I don't see you at BlogHer, I hope it's because you're in Gilroy, soaking up all of the excitement of the 31st annual garlic festival.
Oven-baked tortilla española
You can't have tapas, the wonderful Spanish bar snacks, without a real tortilla, which is a kind of frittata of eggs and potatoes. Making a traditional tortilla española on the stovetop can be a messy proposition, with olive oil spattering everywhere, so why not bake it in the oven? As with most tapas dishes, this one wants to be made a bit ahead, with time to set. Serves 16 as part of a tapas meal, or 6 as a lunch or brunch main course.
6 oz red-skinned or Yukon gold potato, diced
4 Tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 scallions, white and green parts finely chopped
1 medium green bell pepper, seeded and finely diced
1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and finely diced
5 large eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
6 oz Parmigiano-Reggiano or Spanish Rocal cheese, grated
3 Tbsp snipped fresh chives
Kosher salt and fresh black pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 375°F.
Placed diced potatoes in a small sauce pan. Cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and cook for 5-7 minutes, until the potatoes are tender. Drain and set aside to cool slightly.
Spray a casserole dish (approximately 7x10 inch) with olive oil or canola spray, and set aside.
Place the 4 Tbsp olive oil, garlic, scallions and bell peppers in a frying pan and cook over medium heat, stirring, for 5-6 minutes, or until the onions are softened but not browned. Let cool a bit, then stir in the cooked potato.
In a large bowl, beat the eggs, sour cream, cheese and chives together. Stir in the vegetable-potato mixture, and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Pour the mixture into the baking dish and smooth the top. Bake for 40 minutes, or until golden brown, puffed, and set in the center. Remove from the oven and let cool and set. Run a spatula around the edge, then invert onto a cutting board, browned-side up. If the surface looks a little runny, place it under the broiler to dry out.
Let cool completely. Neaten the edges if necessary, then cut into one-inch squares. Serve on a platter with wooden toothpicks.
Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.